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By her own admission, Pamela Lorea badly damaged the Hamilton company she worked for the past 5 1/2 years.

In recent interviews with detectives from the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office, Lorea admitted stealing more than $344,000 from Specialty Woodworks, where she worked since May 1998, court records state.

The loss, which law enforcement pegs at $374,720.85, hammered the company, for which Lorea handled the books from June 1999 until late November 2003. The company specializes in doors and cabinets.

"The losses to the company include its inability to give raises, to grant bonuses to its employees, required employee layoffs, required a personal loan by the owners to fund a pension and profit-sharing plan for employees, jeopardized the company's health plan, and squelched expansion plans for the company, including the hiring of new employees," court records state.

Lorea was arrested Wednesday afternoon at the Ravalli County Courthouse on a warrant issued late Tuesday. She will appear in Justice Court on Thursday, facing five counts of theft by embezzlement and five counts of deceptive practices.

Suspicion first fell on Lorea last October when Kent Olson, the company's president, started working with an accountant to reconcile the company's falsified accounting records. By November, Olson knew that checks had been forged, and he's alerted the company's bank.

"On Nov. 24th, 2003, (Lorea), knowing that discovery of her actions was inevitable, came to Kent Olson and confessed to him that she had been embezzling money from the company by writing unauthorized checks," records state.

The day after, Lorea was interviewed by sheriff's detectives Perry Johnson and Sterling Maus. Lorea admitted embezzling money through a series of unauthorized checks, but she vastly misstated the amount of the loss, suggesting a figure of about $50,000.

Two weeks later, in another interview, Lorea admitted a much higher figure.

"At the end of that interview, after reviewing numerous checks, (Lorea) admitted embezzling funds represented by those checks totaling $344,411.58," records state.

The detectives eventually set the figure at more than $374,000, drawn from a total of 106 checks written over five years. According to court records, Lorea took only $3,867.06 in 1999, but that amount increased steadily in the next few years. In 2002, she allegedly took more than $155,000, a figure topped in 2003 by the theft of more than $178,000.

Detectives continue to investigate the possibility that Lorea also took cash from the company. In general, however, Lorea was allegedly able to steal from the company by using blank checks.

"Because it was necessary for the company to write approximately 160 checks per month to cover payments to employees, vendors and various other business expenses, authorized persons were often executing blank checks so the business could continue operating," court records state. " … Beginning in June of 1999 and continuing through portions of 2003, (Lorea) began using these blank checks for her personal use."

Lorea allegedly made the checks look legitimate by making false payments to legitimate suppliers, false payments to a credit card company and extra payroll checks to herself.

Lorea's case will now move to District Court, where felony cases are resolved.

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or 370-3330, or by e-mail at mmoore@missoulian.com

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